Kicking off the 2023 NWSL season

March 25, 2023
The season kicks off today and will run through November, with two separate weeks off in the summer to accommodate for the Women’s World Cup down under.
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⚙️ How it works

All 12 NWSL teams play 22 matches each, facing competitors twice — once at home and once away. The season kicks off today and will run through November, with two separate weeks off in the summer to accommodate for the Women’s World Cup down under.

  • The top team at the end of the regular season will walk away with the NWSL Shield, and the best six teams will advance to the playoffs. More on that in the fall, though.

Beginning this year, the NWSL Challenge Cup will be played concurrently with the regular season, better resembling traditional soccer scheduling. The cup action kicks off on April 19th, when the Orlando Pride host the Courage. Mark that cal.

💪 The contenders

Portland Thorns: The reigning champs are ready to run it back in 2023. The team returned almost all of its stars, including 2022 league MVP Sophia Smith and standout midfielder Sam Coffey. The new variable this year? Head coach (HC) Mike Norris, who was promoted after serving as an assistant during the championship season.

OL Reign: The 2022 NWSL Shield winners also hung onto their core, highlighted by attackers Rose Lavelle and Bethany Balcer, but added new talent over the offseason. The USWNT’s Emily Sonnett bolsters the Seattle–based team’s defensive efforts, while Brazilian midfielder Luany will offer another option in attack once her visa comes in.

KC Current: Last year’s runners-up, the Current freshened up its midfield and attack by signing a trio of standouts — Vanessa DiBernardo, Morgan Gautrat and attacking star Debinha. It should help soften the blow of losing USWNT standout midfielder Sam Mewis to yet another long-term injury.

San Diego Wave: The first NWSL expansion team to book a playoff spot in their inaugural season should continue riding the, ahem, wave in year two. 2022 Defender and Rookie of the Year Naomi Girma and Golden Boot winner Alex Morgan are back, while newcomers midfielder Danny Colaprico and attacker Rachel Hill add important depth. Gnarly.

Houston Dash: After securing its first postseason berth last year, the Dash are looking to return under new HC Sam Laity. Forward Ebony Salmon will once again lead the offense after scoring nine goals in 12 regular-season games once she joined the Dash in June, while fellow attacker Diana Ordóñez could have a breakout year of her own.

Orlando Pride: Seb Hines — the NWSL’s first Black HC — shed the interim tag during the offseason and is eyeing the Pride’s first playoff berth since 2017. And the team’s chances earned a massive boost when midfielder Marta returned from an ACL tear during last month’s SheBelieves Cup. Lipstick watch is on.

🐕 The underdogs

NJ/NY Gotham FC: New year…new Gotham? The team landed HC Juan Carlos Amorós and a batch of fresh talent, including USWNT stars Lynn Williams and Kelley O’Hara and midfielder Yazmeen Ryan, who was instrumental in the Thorns’ championship win. Questions remain, though, including if Gotham has truly fixed the league’s worst defense.

Washington Spirit: After missing out on the 2022 playoffs, the Spirit are hoping for redemption under new HC Mark Parsons, who previously helmed the squad from 2013 to 2015. This time around, he’ll benefit from rising star Trinity Rodman as well as reliable midfielder Tori Huster, who’ll play her first full season after tearing her Achilles in 2021.

Chicago Red Stars: The Red Stars lost veteran midfielders Danielle Colaprico, DiBernardo and Gautrat in the offseason, but plenty of talent stuck around in the Windy City. USWNT ’keeper Alyssa Naeher and defender Tierna Davidson return to maintain the team’s defensive stability, and Mallory Swanson looks more than ready to handle things up front.

Angel City: LA’s team was a contender, but couldn’t clinch a playoff spot during last year’s injury-plagued run. The squad may fare better in 2023 though, with veteran defender Sarah Gorden recovered from knee injury and draft pick Alyssa Thompson contending for Rookie of the Year.

Racing Louisville: With few departures during the offseason, Racing could finally realize its potential. Goalkeeper Katie Lund is poised for another strong season, plus midfielder Jaelin Howell and new forward Uchenna Kanu have the chance to truly leave a mark. That said, the team’s defense may not be a strong suit in 2023. Just need to score a bunch, right?

NC Courage: After a mass exodus including several veteran players, 2023 will be a rebuild year for the Courage. Defense is clearly a priority after the team’s poor record in the back last year, so count on Kaleigh Kurtz and new recruit Emily Fox taking center stage as the Courage eye a rebound. Started from the bottom.

♥️ Protect the players

Content warning: This section contains mention of sexual and emotional misconduct.

Today’s kickoff marks the start of the first NWSL season since two investigations into systemic abuse across the league. Last October, Sally Yates’ independent investigation corroborated claims that three former HCs — Paul Riley, Rory Dames and Christy Holly — sexually and emotionally abused players.

  • The Yates Report also revealed that club owners, NWSL leaders and U.S. Soccer Federation execs continuously failed to act just about every time players shared their accounts, creating a vicious cycle of abuse.
  • The NWSL and NWSLPA revealed similar findings at the conclusion of their joint investigation in December, implicating nearly all of the league’s teams including the Thorns, the Red Stars, the Courage and Racing.

Two club owners were ousted almost immediately because of public pressure — the Thorns’ Merritt Paulson and the Red Stars’ Arnim Whisler, both of whom put their clubs up for sale. And the aforementioned coaches named in the reports were permanently banned from coaching in the NWSL.

As the league looks to move forward, it’s also thinking about proactive action. The NWSL is in the midst of acting on recommendations from the investigative teams, including revising and creating new safety policies and launching a Diversity, Equity & Inclusion taskforce.

  • They’ve started hosting more training sessions on safe practices, including the NWSL’s first-ever culture summit, which took place when coaches and staff convened in Philadelphia for the NWSL draft in January. Progress.

📺 How to watch

U.S. viewers can catch all the action across CBS’ platforms. Most of the 2023 slate will air on streaming service Paramount+, though several matches will air on CBS and CBS Sports Network.

  • For folks north of the border, TSN is the brand-new Canadian home for NWSL matches. The broadcaster will show over 70 games on TV and on its streamer, TSN+. Break out the zhampagne.